Reading is my favorite past time and stories are always circulating in my head. I love to talk books and write reviews on stories worth recommending to other readers. If you've got a book ready for reviews, I'd love to hear about it. I will read just about anything, but my favorite genre are historical fiction, romance, stories about strong women in difficult times, family sagas, inspirational, psychological thrillers and maritime novels. I avoid stories that have weak writing, overwritten scenes, flat characters and too much profanity for the sake of shock value. I'm also a reviewer with The Naked Reviews which offers some awesome opportunities and promo packages for indie authors. Contact me anytime for questions or to submit your book for possible review.
Who is a 19th century frontiersman who rose from obscurity to hold a place in early Illinois politics and whose family home currently stands as a historic landmark? If you were to ask any average Illinois grade school child, you would most certainly receive the answer, Abraham Lincoln. Yet for those who live in and around Edwardsville, Illinois, the answer could equally be our very own Colonel Benjamin Stephenson (whose life and times are recounted in my book series: The Stephenson House Chronicles).
Uncanny you say? Coincidental? Quite possibly they are. Lincoln lore also indicates an uncanny and chilling comparison between the 16th President’s life and John F. Kennedy. But we found some equally uncanny similarities between these two Illinois men that perhaps offers insight into a state that nurtured not only the most famous and highly revered president in American history, but also an obscure statesman and original signer of the Illinois Constitution, whom Lincoln would have known and revered, even before he left his legacy and moniker on our state as “the Land of Lincoln”.
Perhaps it could be said that without Ben Stephenson there may not have been an Abraham Lincoln. It was in 1809 when Ben passed through Kentucky, while Lincoln was still a wee babe, and then crossed the Ohio River into a newly opened territory and laid the foundations for statehood. Years later, Lincoln’s family followed the same path, venturing further north to New Salem settlement, where he would have been very much aware of the “Stephenson” name and the man who laid the foundation for his future legacy.
In honor of Lincoln’s birthday, here are sixteen fun facts linking two famous men from Illinois:
1. Named after an Old Testament Biblical patriarch with three syllables shortened to a one syllable nickname
2. A self-educated, self-made man who ran a short-lived small business that went bankrupt
3. Lived in Kentucky before moving to Illinois
4. Served in an Illinois militia during wartime but probably never saw any action
5. Played a role in early Illinois politics as congressional representative
6. Known for his fine art of diplomacy and easy-going, persuasive manner
7. Married a daughter from a prominent slave holding family and fathered four children
8. Married under suspicious circumstances possibly as a matter of convenience
9. Associated with the Ninian Edwards family (first governor of Illinois)
10. Died in his fifties, suddenly and tragically at the height of his career
11. His death was lamented to the height of martyrdom during a tumultuous time
12. Left a young family behind and a widow who never remarried
13. Controversy and scandal followed his family in the wake of his death
14. Buried in Illinois but grave marker is not in original location
15. Namesake to state counties (Lincoln County, MO; Stephenson County, IL)
16. His stately family home still stands today as a historic landmark in Illinois
(Reprinted from The Volunteer, a newsletter publication of the 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House)
For further reading on the life and times of Benjamin Stephenson, check out these links below:
“Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven.”
That old commercial jingle came to mind this past weekend as I returned to the 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House, the site that inspired my series of the building of Illinois. With the cold temperatures here in Southern Illinois, the idea of spending an afternoon by a roaring hearth fire experimenting with a period recipe, was just too tantalizing to resist.
So, I hauled out my stash of heritage cookbooks to pour over possible recipes to make. This idea had been brewing for a while. Perhaps with the holiday frenzy of baking was now over and the last bit of Christmas goodies a mere memory I yearned for some baking time again. Thus, to banish winter doldrums, and also to find something suitably interesting for blog readers, I devised a plan to try my hand at some archaic “receipt”, as they were called, perhaps one that my book characters, Ben and Lucy Stephenson, might have eaten, or served at table, or even labored themselves over a hearth to cook. What fun would that be!
I love the challenge of cooking over a bed of hot coals, keeping a fire stoked throughout the process and seeing what results. So, putting those Girl Scout and family camping skills to use, I flipped through my stash of pioneer and historical cookbooks and chose a recipe and gathered supplies. Then donning my Federal Era gown, day cap and apron and headed out on a cold January day to bake the way our ancestors did some 200+ years ago, before there was electricity, microwaves, freezer dinners and even box mixes at their disposal. Come along with me to the 1820 kitchen and see what there is to learn from the hearth.
Baking Seed Buns
My most recent heritage cookbook purchase was one featuring English Regency recipes that seemed suitable to the 1820 site that inspired my own book series. Plus, this one had a few references to Jane Austen, and thus, had potential for research in writing Regency/Federal Era historical fiction, as my characters were indeed contemporaries to the 19th century novelist. So, what better way than to begin my new year of blogging than delve into hearth cooking?
My first recipe adventure would be the baking of Seed Buns. Originally, they may have been called Bath Buns, named for the seaside resort town in England where they were first invented by a local doctor and served to tourists at the health spas. Jane Austen is believed to have enjoyed these while visiting with her aunt and uncle on holiday. And fans of Jane Austen novels might imagine Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey nibbling a few during her escapades in Bath. I wondered if Lucy Stephenson might have tasted something similar to this, so I adapted my recipe from a common dinner roll recipe and combined it with one for Bath Buns from a period source cookbook to make a suitable dinner roll or tea bun that may have been served in Jane’s English resort town or possibly, Lucy Stephenson’s Illinois.
Seed Buns Ingredient List
1 cup heavy whipping cream 1 egg, separated
1 tablespoon active dry yeast 1 tablespoon of water
2 cups of all purpose flour 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt 1/8 cup sugar
Caraway seeds were often an ingredient of choice in breads aptly named “seed cake”. For this recipe we needed to coat them in sugar. “Carraway Comfits”, as they were sometimes called, are just sugar-coated caraway seeds, probably the 19th century version of candy sprinkles. These would be for mixing in the dough as well as creating a pleasing “seeded bun” topping.
According to one source, they are a bit tricky to make. An 18th century confectioner would painstakingly coat batches of the tiny seeds in a multi-step process. For my purposes, I found a shortcut method that suited hearth cooking quite nicely. Just 2 tablespoons each of water, sugar and 3 tablespoons of caraway seeds, which I happened to have on my pantry shelf, in addition to all the other ingredients listed above. So, this looked to be a worthy project to start my heath cooking adventure.
As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one scheduled for hearth cooking at Ben’s house that Saturday; so I took my time gathering up the ingredient list at home, hunted down my period clothing (because if I’m going to cook the Early American way, I have to look the part too). It was nearly 1:00 pm by the time I got rolling with cooking, plenty of time for the morning crew to finish up. And a nice hearth fire was already built for me as the two other young bakers were just finishing up their morning bread baking. The kitchen was mine for the rest of the day. However, bread baking can’t be rushed. I had a narrow window of 3 hours to mix, knead, let rise, knead, shape into buns, let rise again and finally bake. Not a problem in my modern kitchen, but with the unstable baking conditions of the hearth, it would be tight. And then there were those tricky caraway comfits to make too.
Rolling in the Dough
I am certainly no novice in the way of bread baking and I’m a born multi-tasker. So, first mix the dough and while it’s rising, sugar coat the caraway seeds. All this is to be done over the fire and I was determined to do this the old-fashioned way. No shortcuts of heating the yeast in hot tap water or “nuking” it in the microwave. The yeast was to be warmed in the cream rather than warm water. I used heavy whipping cream heated over the fire till it was about 110 deg. F, or “blood warm” as my Mom used to say. This means it feels comfortably warm to the touch, or just about the temperature of a nice hot bubble bath. I suppose I have that in common with yeast, because they like a nice warm relaxing soak too! Maybe that’s why bread baking comes so easily to me.
While the yeast was soaking in a luxurious cream bath, I melted the sugar in a cast iron skillet. This was the one ingredient I didn’t take from my modern kitchen. Instead, I used the sugar cones at the site. Sugar came in solid cones in the 18th and 19th centuries, wrapped in blue paper and kept airtight with a wax seal before purchase. This was one item every General Store would have kept on hand, an item imported from the West Indies. White sugar would have been highly prized and more expensive.
What today we call, “raw sugar” and consider healthier, was more common and less expensive, but would not do for something as elegant as Bath Buns. Nippers were used to scrape off bits of sugar for use. In my case the sugar was already partially shaved down, leaving just enough sugar shavings for my purpose. I find the nippers a bit unwieldy to use, perhaps something I need to practice with more. A serrated knife works equally well in scraping off small amounts of sugar. I wondered if 19th century cooks improvised as well?
The comfits actually turned out rather well, in just one coating of caramelized sugar, despite how they look below. Someday I might attempt the more complicated method as described above. Some of the comfits went into the dough as it was mixed and the rest were saved for sprinkling on top later before baking.
The dough took exactly an hour to raise, even with trying to rush it in the Dutch oven near the coals. The clock was ticking and it was now going on 2:30 pm. The house officially “closes” for tours at 3:00 pm but the director stays till 4:00 pm. Since tours take a minimum of 1 to 2 hours (depending on how chatty the tour guide or visitors are) we won’t start any tour after 3:00 pm, or else we’d never go home. Since there had been no tours all day, I was allowed to bake uninterrupted but it meant I still had only 1.5 hours to let the dough rise again, formed into buns, and then bake. It was do-able, but still tight. Baking over the hearth is trickier, being at the mercy of the coals with no way to set the temperature with complete accuracy. No dial to turn up with a consistent heat to flash bake them at say 450 degrees for 20 minutes, like in a modern gas, electric or convection oven. It takes bread about twice as long to bake in the Dutch oven over the coals versus baking in a modern oven. Hence, I figure baking temps over the hearth are no more than 200 to 300 deg. That meant I needed every minute possible to bake before the end of day at 4:00 pm or I’d be heading home with soggy doughy buns (erm…. that doesn’t sound good, but you get my meaning)
With the low temps of the Dutch oven and slow baking time, I decided to combine the last step of letting the buns rise before baking and just let them slow rise and then bake all in the same Dutch oven, since one process leads to the other anyway. So long as the yeast gets time to activate and expand the dough before being baked solid, that’s really all that matters. It might mean they are a little less puffy, but there was always another day to try this again, perhaps in my modern oven at home. By 3: 15, they were sufficiently risen but still a bit too doughy to brush on the egg and water mixture before topping with comfits. The other problem was, the historic kitchen had no pastry brush. Did they have them in the 19th century? The site director didn’t’ seem to know either. Something else to research, perhaps. So, I applied them carefully with the back of a wooden spoon. Not the easiest method, especially when the tops were still a bit doughy and easily damaged. But I got the job done and let them bake for the last 20 minutes by placing the oven to the far back of the hearth where some nice glowing coals were in full glory. That likely increased my “oven” temperature to 350 to 400 degrees and the best way I could “dial” it up. I smiled thinking of one of the house servants possibly needing to hurry along a batch of rolls for a company dinner where Colonel Stephenson might be entertaining Governor and Mrs. Edwards.
At 3:45 pm, I was needing to pack up and head home. Because I cleaned the kitchen as I went along (including cleaning up a mishap of a broken olive oil bottle, we won’t discuss) I had everything put back in order with only the buns in the oven still not quite half baked. Fortunately, they were just done enough they would not “fall” in the frigid temps on the car(riage) ride home. I had to “cheat” and finish browning them once I got home, but hubs and I enjoyed a rare treat with dinner. Regency seed buns are delicious! Named for the resort town of Bath, that was the setting for Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, these “tempting concoctions” definitely live up to their reputation as something Jane, is said to have indulged in, to the point of “disordering” her stomach by eating too many on occasion. I found nothing “disordering” about either baking or eating these buns, although I don’t know that I’d want to do either on a regular basis. But I am game to try my hand at another hearth cooking recipe for a future post. Hope you’ll join me then too!
The first book meeting of the year is always an exciting time as we delve into our new list of books. However, in this case, the book pick was a carry over from last November when a lasts minute change in discussion leaders had to be arranged. I had not read the book until after the holidays when last weekend’s snowmageddon offered me the perfect indulgence to sit near a fire and marathon read when all other responsibilities had come to a screeching halt. So, while winter raged outside, I basked in the lovely prose and a warmer clime setting via Ms Jones’ portrait of a marriage in difficult circumstances and how to pick up those broken pieces of our lives to begin again, perhaps not as we had once hoped, but finding fulfillment in who we are now and where that could lead.
Those are themes uncovered in this story where a very modern young couple seemingly has everything going for them. Celestial and Roy know both the disadvantages dealt to them because of their race but also have benefitted from the advantages of growing up in close knit families with parents in stable marriages as examples. For the first year of marriage, Celestial and Roy are happy, successful in their chosen fields and looking to continue on an upwardly mobile path to bliss. There’s talk of children, and they are on the verge of taking that plunge into parenthood themselves, when life turns inexplicably wrong. A carefree romantic weekend at a hotel, chosen for its nostalgic memories, becomes their worst nightmare when Roy is charged with a crime against another woman also staying at the hotel. A speedy trial leads to a sentence of twelve years incarceration where he still never gives up hope he’ll be released and can pick up with his newlywed wife once again.
At our book club meeting on Wednesday, we all were well taken with this book, though, as usual, some more than others and always there are different interpretations on character and the subtle nuances of storytelling and craft.
Most thought the title a bit too general and vague. Does this story show a typical American marriage? But then, what is a typical marriage in America? There was also more than one marriage analyzed, given the story is not just about Celestial and Roy, but also delves into the backstory of both of their parents and the difficulties and sacrifices made along with the legacy they left their children.
I love books with complex flawed characters, especially for a book club read. This one was no exception to many we’ve read over the years. There were things to love and dislike about all three in this tangled love triangle. Roy admits to being a “player” even during the first year of his marriage when Celestial finds business cards with other women’s phone numbers in his coat pocket. Celestial seems more interested in her doll making and business model than in cementing their marriage with a potential child. While she makes a valiant effort to visit Roy during the first two years of his imprisonment, she soon falls away, yet still seems to rely on him and won’t completely let go. Enter Andre, who has worshipped Celestial from afar but now takes his chance while Roy is away. Each chapter alternates with one of these point of views in first person, some are written in epistolary form and others as long internal monologues. It made for a gripping story that certainly kept me turning pages both loving and loving to hate each of them in intervals.
The discussion went on for more than our hourly allotment even with only the following six questions to discuss. For a book to kick off our year of reading, this one was worth the wait. For our whole list of this year’s books click on the tab: Book Club 2019.
Discussion Questions for An American Marriage:
What did you think about the title of this novel? Does it represent the theme, plot or characters well? How so?
What did you think about the fact that the race of the woman who accuses Roy of rape is not even mentioned and there is very little information about the trial and how Roy was convicted?
Do you think the three main characters have wobbly moral compasses? What do you think about Celestial, Roy and Andre and their interactions with one another and their justifications for the things they did?
What did you think about Roy going to DaVina’s when he is released from prison
What did you think about Roy setting up Andre to come and pick him up so he could get time alone first with Celestial?
Do you think Roy and Celestial’s marriage would have survived even without the prison sentence?
Several years ago, when I was new to blogging, I started a blog specifically as a place for my local book club to keep in touch and also talk about books when they couldn’t attend a meeting or even when they simply wanted the discussion to keep going past our hourly in person allotment each month. The other reason for starting the blog was personal. It happened after I read a book I really wanted to discuss but could not make the meeting. In frustration I opened my laptop, brought up a blog post and started writing. That was even before I entertained the notion of writing fiction as a hobby, let alone a serious sideline business venture.
Regrettably, that blog never really took off. Most of the ladies at that time were not savvy to the new and growing internet let along blogging. Since then, social media and blogs have expanded astronomically. Now, as a published author, I am finding both a need and a desire to resurrect a blog for my writing in conjunction with my other social media, I still find that original interest and desire to write about books and, perhaps, brag a bit about my book club. Whether they choose to join me in this venture, or if any others would like to vicariously or virtually join in on the discussion via the internet, that all remains to be seen, but all are welcome to read and respond to any of my posts, be they about our book club selections and discussions or anything else.
January seemed like a good time to get things rolling, now that our list of books is set for the year. The 2019 list is available in its own tab at the top of the blog. So, please check it out, read along and watch for upcoming posts about our monthly book club selections. If you happen to be in the area, anyone is welcome to join us on the third Wednesday of the month at the VFW in Staunton, Illinois from 6:30 to 8:00 pm.
When it comes to holiday films and specials, I am an unabashed Christmas movie junkie. I have my favorites from childhood, some classics that return every year and then others I recall with a sentimental nostalgia, those I fished out of some dusty $5 discount bin or sought out in some obscure second-hand video shop to have at the ready for holiday viewing. I relish this time of year when I get to snuggle in and escape the holiday madness with a little cheesy fictional world. So, looking over this list of “50 of the Worst Holiday Films of All Time” I strangely find myself fondly remembering some Christmas pasts when my life (and the world) seemed a bit simpler. Some of these I saw in theaters with my own children and a few I recall seeing in my youth and at the time they really didn’t seem so bad. Perhaps it was on a later viewing that the glaring flaws surfaced, but still, are they really all so bad? And if these truly are the “worst 50” of all time, what about all those forgotten ones prior to the 1990s?
Truth is, there have always been cheesy holiday classics that do not stand the test of time well (anyone recall Santa Conquers the Martians circa 1964? No? Well.. you haven’t missed much. Pity that one didn’t make the list) That’s why the truly good ones prevail and the rest are best left going quietly into the Silent Night, or at best, dusted off for a viewing from time to time, perhaps to recall that time you first saw it with your “auld acquaintances” of yore. Isn’t that also what makes the holidays “the most wonderful time of the year?” But still, a few on this list according to Martha Sorren’s article in The Business Insider, did offer a pleasant holiday diversion from the tried and true classics year after year and apparently made someone a bit of income for holiday shopping. As one writer friend proclaimed on seeing this list: “I think I should pursue a third career writing cheesy holiday movies. Clearly anyone can.” I don’t know about writing cheesy holiday scripts but there is definitely room for some new classics to be made, be they retellings of old stories or originals. And don’t just blame the screenwriter. There’s the director to blame as well. It takes more than script writing to make a good and lasting film, be it a holiday classic or otherwise.
And who’s to say the concept doesn’t have merit? There are a few that could have worked. A kid lost in NY and wreaking havoc at holiday time or a desperate dad on a quest for a sold-out gift his kid wants for Christmas (anyone remember that Cabbage Patch craze? It does happen!) True, some of these are just cringe worthy (a dead dad returning as jack Frost? Um.. no) But then, how dumb do some of the enduring holiday classic premises sound (i.e. a green grumpy monster steals Christmas from a town of weirdos) Most ideas are not essentially bad, just the execution in writing and design. This list of 50 “worst” provide a range of suitable prompts for a creative challenge to reinvent them into something new and improved for next year.
Some on the list are tried and true classic stories that just were badly done (i.e. the 2001 Christmas Carol cartoon) As if we really need another from the many stellar versions out there? Perhaps that’s when the producer or art director might be to blame. But once they’re in for a penny they’re in for a pound, perhaps, and bear in mind all these did make money and helped people put Christmas presents under their trees or a roast beast on the holiday table. Hallmark specials really aren’t worth serving up on the list as they are meant for a specific target audience that does like this sort of formulaic tinsel, leaving the author of this article sounding more like the Grinch than a savvy critic.
And then, sometimes a flop can come back as a classic embraced later by a whole new audience. Perhaps a few of those could have made the list some years back but now are well received and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without them. A Christmas Story didn’t fare well in theaters in 1982 and nearly disappeared into oblivion until it made a comeback on TV and is now a stage play and musical. Even the classic Nutcracker Suite was a total flop and an embarrassment to the great composer, Peter Illych Tchaikovsky, back in 1890s Russia, but today the ballet music is heard everywhere at holiday time, conjuring visions of sugarplums fairies dancing in our heads. Who’s to say that a few of these won’t make an ironic comeback? So be careful who you diss today and be nice or you might just end up on someone’s naughty list tomorrow. In the meantime, take a moment this season to review and reflect on your favorites, perhaps with a cup of your favorite winter beverage and maybe take in a few of the “worst ever” to decide for yourself. You might even be inspired to pen a classic of your own, in the making that just might charm future generations.
J.I. Rogers has woven together a trilogy of stories set in a future universe that uncannily mirrors our own world. While on the surface these short fiction pieces are typical science fiction/dystopian, in many ways they also could be seen as cautionary tales or parables of how history truly does repeat itself. Fashion and cultures come and go, and governments may change, but underneath it all we are the same human creatures with common struggles, needs, ambitions and, yes, deeply seated flaws. If there is any connecting thread between these three unrelated short – though seemingly straightforward – stories, it is that. Whether this was intentional crafting on the author’s part or merely a subconscious chance pairing, the result is near brilliant storytelling nonetheless. Apart from that, these all are rather simple in structure, short on plot devices, parse on setting detail and character arc while at the same time, abundant in name dropping of titles, rank and unexplained technology and devices. A thorough grounding in the futuristic culture would have been helpful and these very short tales could readily be expanded to bring more of the puzzle pieces together to engage the reader even more.
Story 1: Protocol 9
Set in the futuristic year 2592, presumably in our universe, this first tale in the collection took a bit of effort to completely engage with. A host of names, ranks and situations are systematically dropped without much context or reason to care about the characters. It appears a rescue mission is in operation heading into a dangerous territory known simply as the Seep, apparently in the aftermath of some war or devastation but that isn’t made clear. The team, led by Col. Kael Sunde, is out to rescue a member of the crew who appears missing or has lost all means of communication. As their mission progresses, it takes a turn for the worse before the all too abrupt ending that seemed to merely effectively draw matters to a conclusion rather than an actual satisfying ending. It was almost as if Rogers ran out of steam while trying to keep to a strict word count. The story begs for a longer delve into the themes and characters and felt more like an excerpt from a novel than a complete short on its own. Perhaps this was not the best choice for opening this trilogy, leaving little reason to continue with the other two stories. But the other two are definitely worth reading.
Story 2: Forget-me-not
The year is 2606 and the world appears not much different than today. A young woman, Isolde, from a privileged family, argues with her parents over a need to shirk her comfortable lifestyle for the chance to help the less fortunate and be part of some significant change. If only the two classes divergent classes – the Diasporan and Korlo – could put aside their differences and unite in a peaceful world. That is her idealistic and sincere hope. A familiar trope in literature, if not in real-world politics, but here Rogers brings it to a new, imagined setting, with a chilling reminder of our current world order and where it is possibly headed – history condemned to repeat itself, regardless of how we try to make it otherwise. When Isolde at last defies her parents and sneaks away, she meets a young man, Yul, at a peaceful demonstration that comes under attack by the authorities – another chilling nod to our modern-day life and an emotional ending that smacks of a cautionary tale with thought-provoking ramifications.
Story 3: Bride Price
In a futuristic world, circa 2568, class struggles continue to exist and the desperate need to hang on to family name and fortune still matter, in spite of advanced technology and enlightened views, apparently. Here is where Bride Price unfolds, a very archaic title to be sure for a story set half a millennium into the future. Regina and Edric Maklon’s scheme to restore their family fortune in the wake of their father’s death sounds more like the plot to a Medieval or Victorian-era story than science fiction. Enter the Harlo family, loaded with dough but lacking in rank. Somehow these two families need to get together. But will they? Again, another overused trope but with a fresh twist combining old world charm with futuristic intrigue. This one at least offered a bit more character development and grounding in the social order of this world, making it my favorite of the three and perhaps a better choice to open or end with while Protocol could be sandwiched in the middle.
Whatever the reading order, these three are short enough to devour in one sitting for a quick diversion while waiting for an appointment or over a lunch break. 4.8 stars for this pithy yet provocative collection of tales in The 942 Series.
A death-defying encounter with a random stranger and a fire ravaged old clock propels a young Chicago woman into a journey of a lifetime, or rather two lifetimes, as she soon discovers she may have lived before during some of the most significant points in her city’s past. Yesterday is more than a typical romance. Rather it’s a historical time travel study that delves into the deepest aspects of who we are, who we possibly were and facing the path before us toward a future destiny.
Amanda Parker is haunted by a tragic past of loss and betrayal when she crosses paths, literally, with handsome Chicago police officer, Mark Callahan. Although she has no intentions of risking her heart again, a strange connection pulls her toward those mesmerizing blue eyes and the man’s familiar face. But how could that be? She’s sure they’ve never met and resists his attentions, until an old grandfather clock, musty and smelling of smoke damage, brings back haunting memories of an undeniable past reaching back to the 19th century. A childhood during the Civil War, left orphaned in the care of runaway slaves, and later barely escaping the Great Chicago fire. As the story unravels back toward these events, the reader discovers gems of untold history and ordinary people who survived the odds, luring us deeper into their lives and connecting seemingly unrelated events as if they could have truly happened that way. By the end, I was almost ready to believe in reincarnation, the author does such a good job of giving insight and background into the para-science, showing her meticulous research into the field as well as the historical background facts.
Underscoring it all is the city of Chicago, resonating as a character within the setting and a vibrant backdrop as luminous as the cover art, featuring an actual painting of the Great Fire from the Chicago Art Museum. I had the privilege of watching this story unfold as a critique partner and waited with bated breath to have the completed copy in hand. It’s a story I’ve returned to again and again, always finding something new to discover in its multi-layered story – a romance, a mystery, a psychological thriller, historical drama and a heartwarming family saga. A little something for everyone and just my kind of read! 5.0 stars!